Government proposes tougher English language test for family migration

Under rules implemented in 1997 spouses must demonstrate that they can ‘understand everyday English’ before they are allowed to apply for permanent settlement. This is tested through a computer-based ‘Life in the UK’ test which the government claims corresponds to the level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). CEFR provides a basis for the mutual recognition of language qualifications, thus facilitating educational and occupational mobility. Furthermore, a spouse can enrol on a specialist English language course to display progression of at least one level below or at B1. However, this option will be removed under proposed plans where all categories of family members will need to demonstrate that they are at B1 by passing a test at the end of the five-year probationary period.

The UK government is asking for views on what skills- speaking, listening, reading or writing- should be assessed, indicating it is considering abandoning the ‘Life in the UK’ test. The test has been the focus of criticism as a tool for language development and assessment. A government review of citizenship carried out by Lord Goldsmith in 2008 stated: \”The present test is not seen typically as a stimulus for learning, though that was one of its stated aims.\”

Proposals to the process by which family members demonstrate their command of English are likely to be scrutinised closely by immigrants support groups and English language testing experts. If implemented, the proposals would be far stricter than those in force in most EU countries, the US and Canada, says Thomas Huddleston, a researcher for the Brussels-based Migration Policy Group, who compiles statistical comparisons of countries\’ migration policies in the Mipex index.

\”After these changes, families, including non-EU immigrants, would face some of the most restrictive policies in the UK with a family reunion ranking of only 27th of 31 countries in Europe and North America,\” he stated on his blog. He claims that a testing regime based on the Life in the UK test would be equally detrimental to the UK\’s current ranking. \”Mipex found the UK\’s current approach to be slightly favourable and flexible for learning English, scoring 68/100. Requiring all to take the Life in the UK Test would set unrealistic bars for many willing learners to succeed, scoring only 18/100.\”

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